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In ancient China, the Milky Way was also known as Tianhe, Yinhan, and Xinghe. The beautiful legend of the Cowherd and Weaver Girl meeting at the Magpie Bridge in Tianhe has been passed down to this day. On a clear summer night, we can see the Milky Way across the sky like a white streamer. So, is the “Milky Way” we often mention in myths and stories the same concept as the “Milky Way” in astronomy?
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The Milky Way is shaped like a flat disk with a thick middle and thin edges. The disk part is called the Milky Way Disc. The Milky Way Disc is composed of stars, dust and gas, and is the main component of the Milky Way. Of the detectable matter in the Milky Way, 90% are within the range of the Milky Way Disc. The Milky Way Disc is shaped like a thin lens, distributed in an axisymmetric form around the center of the Milky Way. Its center is about 10,000 light-years thick, but this is the thickness of a slightly raised nuclear ball. The Milky Way Disc itself is only 2,000 light-years thick and nearly 100,000 light-years in diameter. Generally speaking, the Milky Way Disc is very thin. The solar system is located within the Milky Way disk, about 25,000 light-years from the center of the Milky Way.
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In fact, the Milky Way is a disk-like star system composed of more than 200 billion stars, thousands of star clusters and nebulae, and the solar system is in this system. Most of the stars in the Milky Way are concentrated in a disk-like structure called the Milky Way. From the perspective of the earth, because the human eye cannot distinguish the dense stars in the main part of the Milky Way, it appears as a milky white bright band with irregular boundaries in the clear night sky, which is what we call the Milky Way. Therefore, the Milky Way is only a part of the Milky Way, and the two concepts of the Milky Way and the Milky Way are different.
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Later, astronomer Shapley observed about 100 globular clusters successively. His statistics showed that globular clusters within the constellation Sagittarius accounted for 1/3 of the total star clusters, while the half-celestial sphere centered on Sagittarius distributed more than 90% of the globular clusters. Shapley systematically studied globular clusters and Cepheids, and concluded that the solar system is not at the center of the Milky Way, but at the edge of the Milky Way, and the center of the Milky Way is in the direction of Sagittarius.